Without Eternal Life and the Eucharist?
In today’s Gospel, when the crowd protested strongly, “This is intolerable language. How could anyone one accept it?,” the crowd was condemning Jesus for proclaiming the truth, that is found in today’s Gospel of St John 6:54, when Jesus said, “Anyone who eat My Flesh and drink My Blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.”
Clearly, the crowd were resisting because they did not have the faith or they plainly refuse to accept what Jesus proclaimed because they interpreted what Jesus said literally. As such, they rejected the spiritual and divine Truth of Jesus. It is the pride of the crowd that caused their blindness and hindrances, which in turn led them eventually to reject the gift of Eternal Life that Jesus was offering them, through His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Sadly, many of the other disciples of Jesus who were likewise influenced by such unbelief, and chose to stop following Jesus.
Feeling somewhat saddened, Jesus then turned to the Twelve and asked them, “What about you, do you want to go away too?” However, to the great consolation of Jesus, Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of Eternal Life, and we believe; we know that You are the Holy One of God.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the reaction of those who did not believe in Jesus and left Him is not surprising. This is because even for many of us, there seems to be a common pattern of thinking and behaviour that, we tend to prefer to believe more in what we can touch, feel and benefit us materially, financially and emotionally. In general, we seem to prefer tangible experiences that make us feel good like, getting a promotion, winning a public award or receiving an expensive gift from someone and the like.
However, as for intangible experiences of our faith, and the making of sacrifices and serving in the background without being recognised, they seem to be more difficult for us to appreciate. And that is precisely why, even when Jesus promised that those who believe in Him will gain Eternal Life, when they receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, millions still do not believe in Him. In other words, the passing glory and the pleasures of this world tend to be more attractive than the happiness that last for eternity. This is because we tell ourselves that the pleasures and the feel good factor of this materialistic world is more real than what is promised AFTER we die, because we also tell ourselves that these benefits come only in the NEXT WORLD, which is a future that is NOT TANGIBLE, and is still an unknown.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, in some ways, Jesus in today’s Gospel is challenging us to recognise that while intangible truths, like our faith seem to be more difficult to appreciate, they do not necessarily mean that they are any less valuable or are any less important than the immediate tangible and passing gratification that we seek and experience in our lives.
Have you heard of the many people who testified that they would have died in the 9/11 tragedy, if they were to have reached the Twin Tower in time? The head of a major company survived the tragedy because he was delayed in having to send his son who started kindergarten. One woman was late because her alarm clock didn’t go off on time, while another was stuck in a very heavy traffic jam or missed the bus. There was yet another who spilled food on her clothing and had to take time to change; another was frustrated because his car wouldn’t start. And yet another man who put on a new pair of shoes that morning, and while walking some distance developed a blister on his foot. He then had to stop by a shop to buy a first aid plaster, which delayed him.
All these people and many others are alive today, because of the somewhat “disappointments” and frustrations they experienced just before the 9/11 Twin Towers were bombed. And so, what did not work out for them, and delayed them were in fact, “blessings in disguise”. And, they were only able to recognise such blessings of God only after the tragedy of 9/11 had happened.
And so, one of the survivors shared, “Now when I am stuck in traffic, miss an elevator, how the children are so slow in getting dressed, or when I can’t seem to find my car keys and when I have to put up with the many little things that annoy me, I do so now with a different view. I say to myself, “Let me not be upset with little things in life, for perhaps, God may be wanting me to experience them, for my own good, as I now believe more strongly, that God is always at work and watching out for us and caring for us, in all the situations of our lives – including the times when many things in our lives seem to be falling apart: relationships and families are breaking up; we are on the verge of losing our job, and even everyone seems to be against us.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, in the face of the many challenges we may be facing in our lives, Jesus too is asking you and I, “What about you, do you want to go away too, like the many people we know, and the millions in the world who have left the Church and given up on their faith in God? If we are weakening in our faith and tempted to give up because the pains, trials, suffering, and with uncertainties and insecurities let us learn from Simon Peter in our Gospel today who spoke the words of wisdom, when he said to Jesus, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of Eternal Life, and we believe; we know that You are the Holy One of God.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus in the Gospel of John proclaimed, “I am the Bread of Life”(Jn 6:35ff); “I am the Light of the world” (Jn8:12,9:5); “I am the Resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25), “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6). Jesus is the only prophet who claimed and proclaimed that He is the Son of God, the Messiah. No prophets in any other religions have made such claims. In making such claims that He is fully divine and fully human, Jesus is either: a liar, a lunatic or He indeed is the Lord and Saviour of the world.
The fact that we are all here for this Mass is a testimony that we all believe that Jesus is indeed, Our Lord and Saviour, and together with Simon Peter are also saying to Jesus in this Mass, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of Eternal Life, and we believe; we know that You are the Holy One of God.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, there is a difference between looking for good feelings in life and looking for God’s Will in our lives. If we are merely living our lives with little concerns for what would happen to us after we die, then such short-sighted and superficial living will never give us the deep peace and lasting joy and happiness, you and I, and indeed every human person long for in our lives.
Therefore, it is pride, arrogance, and foolishness to say that we don’t care about what would happen to us after we die. Can we say that we don’t care whether our children go to heaven or not after they die? If we truly love our children, then as good parents, we who give them the best possible education, food, clothing and shelter, would also want to ensure that they are cared for and have happiness, even after they die. In other words, if we truly love our children, we CANNOT say that we simply leave it to them to decide what kind of faith and quality of life they choose to live.
Some months ago, I met Jane, (not her real name). Jane is a friend that I have not met for some years, she is wealthy, and have been living her faith with great fidelity. However, to my surprise, Jane who used to look very well, now looked very sad and stressed. And when I asked her why, she shared with tears in her eyes, that two of her children have stopped practicing their faith, and another is openly living a very immoral life. Clearly, Jane who had tried so hard to bring up her children in the Catholic faith is deeply saddened and broken and even feels that she has failed God. Jane is helpless and she says, she has been crying every day for the past several years of her life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that Jane is precisely suffering so deeply because her faith in Jesus is like that of Simon Peter who believes, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of Eternal Life, and we believe; we know that You are the Holy One of God.” Jane is deeply distressed because she is so helpless as to what she can do for her children’s faith and the future of their lives after they die.
And so, my sisters and brothers, let us not take our faith and especially the Eucharist for granted. Unless, our lives are founded on Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, and unless our lives are nourished by the spiritual Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, as St John’s Gospel clearly tells us, we can be sure that whatever secular successes or wealth we may have, they clearly cannot give us true peace, lasting fulfilment and happiness in our daily living.
And, unless, our lives on earth are clearly lived with the clarity and commitment that our true home is with God for all eternity, we too, will never find the true meaning, purpose and direction in our earthly lives. And if this is so, then Jesus too is asking you and I here today, as He had asked Simon Peter and His Apostles, “What about you, do you want to go away too?”
In answering Jesus, in our daily living, let us not be blinded by the tangible and passing glory and gratifications of the secular world and more importantly, let us NOT allow our pride and arrogance to think for a moment that we can be self-sufficient and can live our lives without God. Let us be wise like Simon Peter, who eventually died a martyr’s death for his faith, and say with deep love and commitment to Jesus, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of Eternal Life, and we believe; we know that You are the Holy One of God.”
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.